The First Years Out
Keeping Their Faith After College
Young alumni face the challenge of finding
a new religious home after leaving campus
Just before he graduated from UNC in spring
2007, Michael Tevebaugh attended a baccalaureate
Mass at the Newman Catholic Student Center.
During his four years on campus, the center had
become his spiritual home, a nexus for work, service
and worship, a hub for involvement in social justice
issues and the place where he had met many of his
closest friends. That final Mass was a poignant experience. Leaving the Newman Center, he said, was “
Making a new home for yourself after your years in Chapel Hill is complicated, and getting used to a new religious community can be daunting. Remember that your college
commuity was once new to you, too.
A few months later, Tevebaugh started working in
Richmond,Va. Like many young alumni making the
transition to life after college, he had a new job and a
new city to get used to and new friends to find. And
like many of his fellow graduates, he also was looking
for a new faith community to call home.
Young alumni often struggle to find and feel part
of a religious congregation after college, say the leaders of some campus religious groups.
“The Catholic Church is not providing a lot of
opportunities for young adults just out of college into
their 30s,” says Kelly Dunlop, social justice minister
and associate campus minister at the Newman Center. “They go to parishes with young families or older
adults, and they can’t find a way in.”
Sheila Katz, program director for Jewish Student
Life at North Carolina Hillel, sees a similar phenomenon. “The young 20s group is often not that welcomed into synagogue life,” she says.
A recent survey from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life backs up the perception that in
many — though not all — of the religious traditions
represented in the U.S., young adults make up a
smaller proportion of their respective congregations
than they do of the population at large. (Details, page
The Pew Forum’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, released in February, tallied the religious affiliations of more than 35,000 adults nationwide. It
found that one-quarter of Americans ages 18 to 29
do not belong to a particular religion and that members of this age group are nearly twice as likely as the
adult population as a whole to be atheist or agnostic.
On the other hand, among adults under 30 with
no religious affiliation, 35 percent said religion is
somewhat important or very important in their lives.
But the study also found that 28 percent of American adults have left the faith in which they were
raised and belong either to another religion or to
none at all.
Young Carolina alumni report that finding a new
faith community after college can take some effort.
“I moved up here without knowing a single person, so I went to the Internet and found a few
[churches],” Tevebaugh says. One was nearby but
smaller than he wanted, and “the demographic was a
little older.” Another church was too far away.
When he visited Richmond’s Catholic cathedral
and found its congregation included a large student
population, he decided it was the place for him.
He does miss the intellectual aspect of Newman
Center sermons, the level of engagement with social
justice he found there and the small discussion
groups. But he concedes he hasn’t yet participated as